Monthly Archives: March 2016

It’s clearly the 21st century, because I found out first via Facebook that Iain Duncan-Smith, the UK’s Work and Pensions Secretary (the guy in charge of the government department responsible for social security payments), had resigned.

In the last couple of weeks, his department announced that it would be cutting the Personal Independence Payment (a benefit paid to disabled people who need a bit of financial support to live independently to fund ongoing costs and expenses that able-bodied people just don’t need, such as extra hand rails, walking sticks, visual aids, etc.). This, he assured us, would save the taxpayer £1.5bn. That’s quite a lot of money, and it is the Conservative philosophy to cut taxes where possible.

In the days following this announcement, George Osborne, the chancellor (the guy in charge of the nation’s finances) announced tax cuts for businesses and the moderately wealthy.

Now, whether or not IDS was just using this as an excuse to step down from his prominent front-bench position so he can campaign for the UK to leave the EU is something I am going to decline to speculate on. The reason he cited for leaving was that HM Treasury (Mr Osborne) had kept on at him for years and years to cut his spending and that the recently announced proposal was a cut too far.

I have spoken about IDS before, and expressed astonishment that this man is a Roman Catholic. A man who follows the teachings of Jesus Christ. Teachings like this one: Matthew 25:31-46. The one where Jesus tells us that we are to care for the sick and the needy. Not as a nice-to-have alongside our showing up at Church every Sunday (which Jesus never told anyone to do), but as a fundamental requirement for entry to Heaven. It is the same reason I have serious doubts about Republicans in the US claiming Christianity.

But this one was a cut too far. Maybe people will begin to realise that a Conservative government’s primary purpose is to take away aid from people whose lives depend on it order to reduce the tax burden for those earning rather more than twice the national average salary.

Yes, you read that right. In order that relatively wealthy people can pay a bit less tax, the government proposed to cut benefit payments that some of our poorest people need in order to feed, clothe and house themselves.

On the subject of Government declining to spend money to save its citizens’ lives, I also saw this piece from LBC radio in which a junior doctor speaks about what is actually happening to the NHS and why the while junior doctors’ thing is not just about them, but it’s about the whole of the NHS and whether or not there is going to be any of it left when we finally kick the Tories out of Westminster.

Welcome, Conservatives! Human decency is officially dead. Who needed British values anyway?

Seeing the good in people?

I’m a bit stuck about what to write about today, so I’ll be brief (and late).

I’ll begin by expressing sadness that yet more people have decided that the best way to make a point is by blowing people up. This, of course, provokes the inevitable crack-down from government and the cycle begins once more. The Doctor sums it up far better than I ever could.

In other news, SXSW is getting things wrong. On the upside, they did apologise.

Tree Change Dolls are still a thing.

And why is it that Christians, the world over, are clinging to the notion that they can preach that God is love, yet fill the world with venom when they get close to a gay person. Or tear apart Girl Scouts of America because GSA seem to be better at compassion and acceptance than they are.

A question of identity

Playing Guess Who, this week, my child and I decided that “is your person a girl?” was a question that was about as easy to answer as “does your person have a cat?”, we decided to ask a question about gender presentation rather than about gender identity. Given that we cannot get to know any of the people in the game beyond having a drawing of their face, this is all we have to go on.

I saw two interesting articles, this week, based on the latest research into sex, gender and gender identity. The first, under a “Truly stunning” headline, reveals such shocking new findings that the grass is green, and that bears shit in the woods. Well, not that paper, but it does suggest that transgender children are just as happy as cisgender children when their parents accept them for who they say they are.

I welcome the paper with open arms, as it is from the TransYouth project, the (shockingly) very first longitudinal study of transgender youth whose identity has not been suppressed by parents, doctors and society at large. Quite why mental health professionals have spent quite so many decades crushing differently-gendered children without actually doing the research to discover if this is the correct course of action is completely beyond me.

Well, actually it isn’t. When we roll up at the doctor’s surgery, we want to see someone with answers and it is “obvious,” of course, that a little boy who wants to dress up as a girl is denying a fundamental fact about themselves, and we just want to help him to see the truth about his body. We tell ourselves that it is the caring thing to help the child to accept who they are and to prepare them for life as a man, because that is, surely, who they will become when they grow up and leave home.

Because we know the child’s gender better than they do, of course.

We take a one-second glance between their legs in the minute after are born and fix an idea in our minds about who they are. It’s simple. There are only two options, and the rules are cast in stone.

Except that there are more than two options. Even if we ignore gender identity and focus purely on a person’s physical body, there are plenty of options beyond what our parents taught us.

Nature reports on the most recent research into what sexes our bodies, and it is vastly more complex and subtle than “XX means vagina, ovaries, uterus and woman; XY means penis, testicles and man.” Biological sex is something that exists across a whole number of physical traits and is something that the body must maintain for its entire lifetime. If a woman’s body stops actively being female, the cells in her ovaries will start to have some of the characteristics of testis cells (and conversely for men). In between “woman” and “man” is a whole range of intermediate sexes that are defined by natural variations in any of twenty or more systems, from genes to hormones to intrauterine environment.

This is a problem, of course, because society has been strongly gendered for the whole of recorded human history, even to the extent that the law in pretty much every country on the planet requires its citizens to be either male or female. It is surely time that demanding something physically impossible of citizens is removed from the law.

Christian churches (as a Christian, I am unqualified to comment on any other religion) face the same problem, too. The Anglican Communion has been ordaining women to the priesthood for a while now, and has recently even permitted them to the dizzying heights of episcopal ordination (that’s bishops). This is a good start, because it recognises that all humans are capable of ministry in God’s church and that we are all equal in the sight of God. It diversifies the pool of opinion in management meetings as well, which reduces the tendency towards groupthink, which can only be a good thing.

The Catholic church, on the other hand, is foaming at the mouth, declaring that women cannot be ordained into the priesthood and that same-sex couples can never be married. The entire policy is based on a lie, however, and must come tumbling down at some point. It took a good few centuries for the church to accept the truths uncovered by Galileo and Copernicus, but it did eventually yield to undeniable scientific fact. With luck and a following breeze the true beauty of the spectrum of sex and gender will be opened up for us all to see, and society and religion will begin to see us all as people rather than forcing us all into one of two boxes.

I live in hope.

The world seems to be falling apart

Apparently, there was a big hoo-ha in the USA over the weekend, where a bunch of white people got together to pat each other on the back and hand out little gold statues to each other. I have no idea who decided to book Chris Rock for the opening speech, but he tore them a new one over it. If anyone thinks that comedy is not a way to make a serious point, they should watch this speech and reconsider.

Back in the real world, it seems that it’s cool to gather together a large group of people with valid travel documents who want, legally, to pass through your country en route to somewhere else and just close the door in their faces. If they protest this decision, just fire tear gas at them. I mean, they’re only fleeing a blasted wasteland that they used to call home, where their own government was bombing them, then the other guys were bombing them, then the government again, and then the other guys marched in and started cutting off people’s heads, then the Russians waded in, then the British, and everyone else. Tear gas? Feh, it’s not the worst they’ve faced, why would anyone even complain about that?

Actually, that Guardian article misses a vital claim that was made on yesterday’s PM programme on Radio 4. Eddie Mair interviewed a doctor (she sounded Scottish) who has been at that border crossing since November, with Médecins Sans Frontières. She said that the refugees, frustrated that only a hundred or so are allowed to pass each day, of a camp population of several thousand, were rattling the border fence to make a point and knocked a bit of it down but they didn’t actually try to cross the border. All the headlines that say that the refugees “stormed” the border fence seem to be at odds with her eyewitness account.

I know whom I believe, but then I’m a bleeding-heart liberal.

Further North, the Jungle, at Calais is undergoing redevelopment. Apparently, the French authorities have provided a stack of shipping containers for people to sleep in instead of the makeshift shacks that the people themselves have built. The shacks are being bulldozed. Inconveniently, the people living in the shacks are less than thrilled about the move, so tear gas has, once again, proved to be an effective way to get people to move. I mean, it’s not like they’ve been stuck at our own border, in the middle of winter, for ages or anything.

I sometimes wish people would stop think for a moment.

The vast majority of people in both camps are part of the largest displacement of humanity since the Second World War. They are fleeing horrors we can’t even dream of and have crossed thousands of miles of this Earth on foot, by rubber dinghy, and by various vehicles. They are fleeing death, not poverty, but all they have is what they can carry and we still treat them as an inconvenience we would much rather just went away.

People in need are inconvenient. They show up and remind us that we are all one family and that families, however dysfunctional, need to help each other out.

He was talking about the USA, but I think that Stephen Colbert‘s comment on Christianity could apply to any nation that espouses Christian Values (we have an established Christian church: we are an explicitly Christian nation):

If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.

But who am I to preach to the rich?  I am just a person.